- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

TORONTO Several hundred American Civil War enthusiasts are staying away from a re-enactment near Toronto this year rather than comply with a Canadian law that would require them to register their muskets at the border.
Descendents of the estimated 50,000 Canadians who fought in the Civil War and other fans of American history have been gathering for the past 12 years at a historic village to stage some of the most famous clashes between the Union and Confederate armies.
But this year's re-enactment of the 1862 Battle of Malvern Hill will go ahead without the usual contingent of about 300 Americans, said Robert Winninger, program officer at Westfield Heritage Village, about 60 miles southwest of Toronto.
"The problem is, under the new gun-control laws, most historical guns are not exempt and American re-enactors who want to bring them up have to fill out a number of forms" and pay a $32 registration fee, he said.
Canada's 3-year-old national firearms law requires most gun-carrying visitors typically hunters to complete a nonresident firearms-declaration form, have it confirmed by a Customs officer and pay the fee.
"The Americans feel singled out," Mr. Winninger said. "Many said they didn't want to [fill out the forms and pay the fee] as a matter of principle."
Dennis Watson, one of the event's organizers, said Americans who oppose gun registration at home don't want to support it abroad. They also fear the information might be shared with U.S. authorities.
Andy Desjardins, a government-licensed firearms examiner and member of the American Civil War Historical Re-enactment Society, said guns made before 1898 are considered antique and are exempt.
But firearms and reproductions made after that are not, he said, and the government has ignored pleas to amend the law for re-enactors. In the United States, he said, muskets are not considered firearms.
Because anyone who handles a firearm requires a license, the law does not allow re-enactors to come to Canada unarmed and borrow their muskets in the country, he said.
Mr. Winninger said the law restricts percussive firearms but not cannons. "Since the Battle of Malvern was a big cannon battle, we'll still have a good show," he said.
Re-enactor Mike Lavis of Hamburg, N.Y., said like many Americans, it "pains" him not to attend the Westfield festival. For many years, members of his 49th New York Regiment have come to the event to enjoy the spirit and the company of their Canadian friends.
But since the new registration law came into effect, he and the other American re-enactors have staged a boycott.
Registering guns "goes against what we believe is American with our gun-ownership rights. Why should we pay someone for the right we have guaranteed in our Constitution?" he asked.
The single-loading, black-powder, percussive muskets they use are little more than "firecrackers," he said, and because guns, like flintlocks, are exempt, the Civil War re-enactors feel as if they've been targeted.

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